Henry John Hayward was born at Wolverhampton, Staffordshire, England, on 11 December 1865, the second son of Harriett Elizabeth Groutage and her husband, William Henry Hayward, a professor of music and formerly a court violinist to King William IV. Henry was taught to play the violin by his father, but his formal education was limited: he left school when he was 11.
Before he was 20 Hayward had organised a costume concert company, The Brescians, made up principally of members of the Hayward and Martinengo families; the latter were originally from Brescia, in northern Italy. His marriage to Louisa Domenica Martinengo at Lancaster on 5 October 1891 was part of a triple alliance between the two families: his elder brother, Flavell, married Bettina Martinengo, and his younger brother, Rudall, married her sister, Adelina. When they were not touring, the members of the company lived on the island of Bute, just off the Scottish mainland, where they established their joint family home about 1894. Henry was the company's manager, organising their touring and business affairs.
In the late 1890s The Brescians teamed up with T. J. West's Modern Marvel Company, which exhibited scientific novelties such as X-rays and moving pictures, and were soon touring England and Scotland as West's Pictures and The Brescians. Hayward acted as advance manager, organising hall or theatre bookings and arranging publicity. After some years they decided to take the show to New Zealand where Hayward's sister Mary had emigrated.
At the beginning of 1905, three months in advance of the company, Hayward arrived in New Zealand and set about booking a tour, which opened at Dunedin on 10 April 1905. The season of just over three weeks was remarkable and success continued as they moved north, playing to packed houses in the larger centres. They made a profit of £13,000. After a return tour the company left for Australia early in 1906, returning to Christchurch for the New Zealand International Exhibition in 1906–7.
The company's Australasian tours were highly profitable, but Hayward, concluding that cinema would not last, ended his partnership with West and sailed for London to arrange a tour for a magic show, Maskelyne and Devant's Mysteries. After visiting Australia the show began its New Zealand season at Auckland on 9 November 1908. Before the tour ended Hayward was in the moving-picture business again, having observed that the new industry – particularly West's Pictures – had grown in strength. Hayward's first picture show, Pathé Pictures, began at the Theatre Royal, Christchurch, on 13 March 1909. In association with his brother Rudall he purchased the Royal Albert Hall in Auckland and began a permanent picture show there on 26 April 1909. He now decided to make his home in Auckland.
Picture theatres in other towns were added to the Hayward circuit. In July 1910 Hayward's Picture Enterprises, with a capital of £30,000, was formed to run an expanding business of film distribution and exhibition. By late 1912 it controlled 33 picture theatres and had an established film-hiring department. The company had an arrangement with an Australian film combine giving it exclusive rights to screen films from many of the leading film-makers of Europe and America.
In May 1913 Hayward's joined with John Fuller and Sons (previously their main competitors) to form New Zealand Picture Supplies. Henry Hayward was president and managing director of the firm; his son, Phil, was also a director. From 1925, when it relinquished its declining film distribution arm to Australasian Films (NZ), the main interest of the company was in theatre management; it controlled the largest circuit of picture theatres in New Zealand. The firm was renamed the Fuller–Hayward Theatre Corporation in 1929 and its capital increased to £250,000. However, it was proving costly to equip theatres for the advent of talking pictures, and the depression of the 1930s resulted in a substantial drop in receipts; Hayward lost heavily. The corporation was taken over by its debenture holders, and he and Phil Hayward left to run their own smaller company, Auckland Cinemas, which they formed in 1931 to operate a number of suburban picture theatres. It prospered until Hayward's death in Auckland on 21 August 1945. He was survived by his wife and son.
Henry Hayward was a man of wide interests. His recreational activities included tramping, sport and gardening. A freethinker, he wrote many articles and pamphlets for the Rationalist Association and Sunday Freedom League, of which he was president, and was an energetic member of the New Zealand Labour Party. He wrote prolifically on music and on stringed instruments, and owned one of the only two Stradivarius violins in New Zealand. His autobiographical work, Here's to life (1944), records his radical opinions on many subjects. His adventurous nature and entrepreneurial drive led him to become a pioneer of a new and highly successful form of entertainment.